Power still out to 20,000 in southern Missouri

Thursday, February 5, 2009 | 9:38 p.m. CST; updated 11:08 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 5, 2009

ST. LOUIS — More than a week after an ice storm battered southern Missouri, 20,000 homes and businesses remained without power Thursday, and the State Emergency Management Agency said rebuilding transmission lines in some rural counties could take weeks.

Agency spokeswoman Susie Stonner said many residents who lack electricity are toughing it out in their homes, visiting shelters long enough to get water and hot food and to warm up. Some residents have wood-burning fireplaces or generators, but others do not, she said.

A disaster medical assistance team was sent from St. Louis to the affected region Thursday to augment staff at some nursing homes and hospitals.

All but a handful of AmerenUE customers in a half-dozen counties had their power restored by Thursday. Most of those still lacking electricity are served by electric cooperatives and municipal utilities.

Thousands of line workers brought in by Ameren from 10 states were asked if they wanted to stay and help other utilities in the region, Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said.

She said an army of workers were eating from mobile dining units and sleeping on cots in community centers.

Contractor crews being released by Ameren will stay in the Bootheel to help Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative restore service, manager Charles Crawford said.

Mike Conyers, who trains electrical linemen for the Missouri Public Utilities Alliance, said 500 of Ameren's contractor crew members had moved into Dunklin County in the tip of the Missouri Bootheel.

South and west of the town of Kennett, "every piece of rural electrical equipment was lying upside down," Conyers said.

"It's totally trashed," he said. "Poles are split open as though lightning had struck them. We're talking millions of dollars of damage."

Southeast Missouri State University said its regional campuses in Sikeston and Malden would reopen Monday, along with its programs in Poplar Bluff. But the Kennett campus will remain closed until Feb. 16 because of continuing power problems there.

On Thursday, the Humane Society of Missouri's disaster response team returned to St. Louis after a week in southeast Missouri.

The team brought back 150 dogs and cats from animal shelters in Sikeston, New Madrid and Caruthersville that had no power. The animals will be available for adoption in St. Louis.

Team director Tim Rickey said the team also sheltered and cared for 50 pets, reuniting them with their owners when their power was restored.

Rickey said an 80-year-old Sikeston woman refused to leave her cold home because a shelter couldn't take her pets. The Humane Society sheltered her animals until the woman could return home.

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